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Cloud9
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I invited a niece in her 20s to stay in our home while she tries to find direction in life.

Initially she opted to stay in a homeless shelter with a social services program and was asked to leave because she entered into a relationship at the shelter. Needless to say, I now have 2 house guests who I welcome readily. My husband and I feel that we can provide a safe and positive respite for the girls.

Both have issues with substance abuse and have regularly attended meetings for over 90 days. I want to offer support without being intrusive and just don't know how to go about that. My niece really struggles with structured programs and has a long history of failure in oppressive systems. How can I help her stay on track from a safe distance?

Edited by Cloud9
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Hi Sharrpa,

I admire and respect your generosity and kind spirit, especially since you “took in” what could be a potentially risky situation—not many families would do this. The symptom list you provided could be indicative of any number of conditions.

When I was heavily involved in what is called “wrap-around services” we worked with inner city, medically indigent families who had children with a severe emotional disturbance. Wrap-around is a psychiatric service that is community and family based. The most successful outcomes came from homes that provided high levels of structure and routine, with a mixture of affection, encouragement and support.

Structure and routine was as simple as a daily schedule for everyone:

  • 7-7:45AM: wake-up and shower get cleaned up

  • 7:45-8:30: breakfast and clean-up/pickup around the house

  • 8:30-5PM- job hunting, attend meetings, see therapist, go to work, etc. The idea is that everyone is engaged in productive activity during the day, no matter what.

  • 6-7PM- dinner and clean up kitchen

The idea is that their day is structured and there are clear house-rules (e.g., no cursing, yelling or arguing; pick up after yourself at all times; bedtime is at 10:30PM except on weekends, etc.). Structure and routine are the most powerful methods for maintaining a smooth household when there is someone who is very young, and for those with family who have a severe and persistent mental illness or substance abuse problem.

I realize this may seem overly intrusive, which you're rightfully trying to avoid, but in reality, this is a very effective preventive measure that may be well received if presented as a method for ensuring that the household runs smoothly since there are now maore people in it.

Good luck and I hope this helps,

David

Edited by David O
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David ~ Thank you for your input.

Her friend left today to another part of the state. I didn't know before, but the girl had a scholarship. Together, and through some hurt feelings, they decided that it was important not to miss such an opportunity. I feel very proud of them both. Although I didn't get a chance to really know the other girl, I did realize her very good nature.

Does it make sense to want to "babysit" my niece now? I know she feels abandoned and I just want to smother her in attention. How much is too much on my part? Anyone?

Edited by Cloud9
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David ~ Thank you for your input. Your advice actually reinforced the type of thing we had going. While I let my niece know that I'd stay impartial in family matters that I would have home rules (to keep me in my routine). She has done an excellent job in that matter. I think she rather fears disturbing my routine more than anything else, but you can't complain about things that are working!

Her friend left today to another part of the state. I didn't know before, but the girl had a scholarship. Together, and through some hurt feelings, they decided that it was important not to miss such an opportunity. I feel very proud of them both. Although I didn't get a chance to really know the other girl, I did realize her very good nature.

Does it make sense to want to "babysit" my niece now? I know she feels abandoned and I just want to smother her in attention. I realize that I can't do that because she is learning how to manage her reaction to that feeling. Abandonment is one of her biggest fears/triggers. How much is too much on my part? Anyone? These are very delicate issues and very individualized. Excessive smothering can trigger greater fears of abandonment, or it could open her up to feeling accepted and loved in a way that gives her permission to initiate intimacy-- one never knows which way it will go. When we talk with foster parents or parents who have just adopted a child from an orphanage in the US, or Russia or any where else, we tell them that it is their job to provide a structured setting with lots of warmth and compassion, but to let the children determine when and where to be open to "smothering" and any affections. In this way, it is the child (in this case adult) who sets the pace. We give the same advice to step parents entering an existing family-- let the children determine when and where.

Good luck and I hope this helps,

David

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